Invited and uninvited, rich and poor, foreigners are pouring into the United States in greater numbers than at any time since the last great surge of European immigrants in the early 1900s.
Paul Muzursky's ninth film is a comic tale about the contemporary immigrant experience that entertains and instructs with an inventiveness reminiscent of Harry and Tonto.
Vladimir Ivanoff is a saxophonist in a circus band. He lives in Moscow with three generations of his family in a cramped apartment. His grandfather constantly rails against the Soviet bureaucracy, embarassing everyone except the quiet-spoken musician.
In Moscow, Vladimir can look forward to waiting in a long line during a snow storm for several rolls of toilet paper. He may be able to rendezvous at a friend's apartment for a bit of sex with his girl, but first he'll have to endure her petitions that he join the Party. The KGB are everywhere, on the lookout for troublemakers and wayward citizens.
No wonder Vladimir's buddy the clown in the circus exclaims "I hate my life!" The circus is going to New York, and the clown contemplates defecting. Vladimir wonders whether he is up to it after all, he has said of his life, "My soul is standing in line at a food store."
America turns out to be an eerie, wild and wonderful place. Here is decadence with a capital "D": break dancers on the streets, billboards touting a cornucopia of goods, and hotel rooms with porno films on television. While visiting Bloomingdale's, Manhattan's cathedral of capitalism, Vladimir decides to defect to the West. The clown chickens out and returns to Russia with his smile turned upside down to a frown.
Vladimir becomes Vlad and moves in with Lionel Witherspoon, a Bloomingdale's security guard who befriends him. He finds a variety of jobs, gets his own apartment, and enrolls in night courses. He falls in love with Lucia Lombardo, a cosmetics clerk at Bloomingdale's.
The transition from Moscow to Manhattan is not easy. On his first trip to a supermaket, Vlad faints at the sight of a wide selection of coffees. He soon realizes America means choices and that inventing oneself is a danger and an adventure.
At Lucia's naturalization ceremony, Vlad is dizzy with joy, but when he receives a letter from Moscow, he experiences homesickness. He says, "In Russia, I did not love my life, but I loved my mistery because it was mine." In New York, it's not so easy to tell good guys from bad guys; the muggers who attack him one evening are just trying to get ahead.
Moscow on the Hudson is an idiosyncratic film that is given stature and class by Robin Williams' vivid and charming performance as Vladimir. His moods are as varied as his jazzy sax solos.
Maria Conchita Alonso sparkles as Lucia, an Italian-born woman whose determination to become a citizen is inspiring. Cleavant Derricks is appealing as Lionel Witherspoon, a black man who must make his own difficult way in the land of opportunity. And Alexandar Benjaminov is absolutely marvelous as Vlad's cantankerous and independent grandfather who also serves as the musician's mentor.
With its plentiful emotional and comic fireworks, Moscow on the Hudson gives patriotism a good name.